When wrestler Bryan Danielson surprised fans by entering All Elite Wrestling at All Out, he could have easily rested on his past accomplishments. After all, he is one of the most decorated and respected names in the industry.
Instead, the in-ring savant has amassed quite a list of challenging opponents right out of the gate. Whether it’s top names like Kenny Omega, emerging stars like Anthony Bowens, or veterans in Dustin Rhodes, Danielson has tested himself in every way with everyone. He solidified himself as a top-tier talent winning a grueling World Title Eliminator tournament final against Miro. This set up the road to facing Hangman Page for the AEW championship on December 15 at the Winter Is Coming special edition of Dynamite.
Here, the “American Dragon” reflects on his initial few months with the company, heading into the new year and what he sees for 2022.
What do you make of everyone still making the mistake of calling you Daniel Bryan?
Bryan Danielson: I laugh because it has happened with the same people who knew me in WWE. CM Punk has been on both sides of the spectrum [and] when I first came up to NXT in the original season. That was the beauty in changing my name when I went to WWE. People who were on the independents knew me as Bryan Danielson. It was better than some of the other names I pitched, like Buddy Peacock. Jim Ross may have known me a little bit as Bryan Danielson, but he wasn’t intimately connected. Daniel Bryan is how I made a really big name for myself. So, I get it.
When you first came to AEW, was the plan to always wrestle as much as you have?
There wasn’t necessarily a plan to wrestle each week. I’m a firm believer that too much time between matches makes matches hurt more. For me, the optimal number of matches is eight to 10 a month. That’s what I realized in WWE. In my last contract with WWE, I got a lighter schedule to be at home more. It was really limited to 10 shows a month. I don’t want to wrestle 227 matches a year, but I find wrestling every week makes my body feel better. I’m prepped better for longer and bigger matches. I look forward to wrestling every week.
Tell me about your work-life balance now.
I only leave once a week. When I’m home, I’m home. I have to work out and do errands, but I’m essentially a full-time dad when I get home. And I love that. I think Brie [Bella] really appreciates that. When she had the two kids, and I’d be gone for four or five days. Doing it by yourself gives you a lot more respect for single parents, especially someone like my mom. She was essentially the single parent for me and my sister. I’m in a really great place right now in life. We’re so blessed in many ways.
What’s your opinion on how AEW handles the mental and physical health of its performers?
AEW has done a great job. They had big plans for [Jon] Moxley. Tony [Khan] had no problem putting those plans aside so he can take care of himself. I think it takes a lot for Jon to be so open about the troubles he has been having. Eddie Kingston wrote a great piece in The Player’s Tribune about dealing with his mental health issues. We were talking about this idea of service and giving back. All of us have different gifts and have gone through different struggles. Eddie’s stories speak to a lot of people. That’s really powerful. He can help people going through the same thing.
Your story can help people too, with your inspirational comeback. In the years since, we’ve seen Edge, Christian Cage and CM Punk make these unexpected returns to the ring. Do you feel you helped them see what was possible?
I don’t want to take too much credit. The guys have to put in the work. One of the things that made my comeback possible and others is the emergence of better technology and health advances. These same things wouldn’t have been possible in 1985 for Edge, specifically, and his neck issues. With me, they wouldn’t even have diagnosed my concussions. Punk, I see him a lot backstage and his attitude is completely different. I think it comes down to the belief that you can do it. It’s hard to be away from wrestling for seven years. I questioned if I can keep up in AEW. I’d been wrestling for the last several years and watched AEW. The stuff they do is crazy. To try and keep up, you have to have that belief you can do it.
What do you make of the landscape of how wrestling has changed in the last year? Do you feel if the pandemic never happened we’d be seeing how it is today?
I don’t ever focus on if something didn’t happen that already happened. But I think this is a natural reaction to what has gone on. What we do know is people who were paid regular contracts will not have them anymore. For WWE, I think there was an overreaction when AEW started. Even when Ring of Honor got real hot with Cody and the Young Bucks. WWE felt they needed to sign up all the talent. They realized, “our business is fine.” AEW is catching up. They’ve done incredible for a company that has been around for less than three years. WWE is still making a billion dollars, so they don’t need to hoard all these talents.
The Young Bucks, I give a lot of credit to their YouTube show, which brought a lot of people to independent wrestling. There is the same chance again where independent wrestling can become bigger. If independent shows can draw bigger names and people, we just have a healthier industry. Although, the hard part is the lost guaranteed jobs. Corporate America baffles me oftentimes.
Coming up is the AEW championship match against Hangman Page. You came in so beloved but managed to get the audience to turn the other way pretty seamlessly.
It’s all a lot easier when they care about someone. If Hangman Page wasn’t someone people cared about, it would have been very easy for the crowd to turn on him, rather than me. They love this guy. I haven’t done anything so mean or dastardly, yet. I try to not make great changes in my character. I think my time in AEW, I’ve been aggressive, a little bit of a jerk [who] people like. But it’s not hard to switch to a jerk who people don’t like.
What goals do you have for yourself in 2022, and how do they play into AEW’s future?
If I can get a group together, I’m thinking of a younger talent or two, and that develops into stories within that. Look at Sammy Guevara and Chris Jericho. By Sammy joining the Inner Circle, he’d become a bigger star. He then stepped up to the plate and hit home runs. That’s how you build young stars. A guy that comes to mind for me is Daniel Garcia.
The one show my wife and I couldn’t stop watching was Game of Thrones. It just made you come back every week. Helping AEW, I want to help that need for viewers to come back every week. I think they’ve already created the best wrestling product in the United States than we’ve seen in years. Helping to get more fans watching and give the feeling like it’s must-see television every week. Those are my over-arching goals, not only for this year, but the three years I’m here.
AEW Dynamite, Wednesdays, 8/7c, TNT
AEW Rampage, Fridays, 10/9c, TNT